Petrol sales increase causes headache for carmakers

10 February 2020

10 February 2020

Petrol-powered vehicles saw another surge of popularity across Europe in the last quarter of 2019, as the decline of diesel continued.

Sales of petrol cars increased 11.9% across the continent, making up 57.3% of the market in the fourth quarter, according to new figures from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA). This growth came at the expense of diesel sales, which dropped 3.7% to record a market share of just 29.5%.

Petrol sales grew in all 28 EU countries, with Italy recording the highest percentage increase (20.9%) of the five major markets. The Central European countries also provided an important boost, up 23% compared to the same period in 2018.

Diesel demand up in France and Germany

Despite the overall decline in demand for diesel, some markets are starting to show signs of recovery. Diesel demand increased again in two of the biggest EU car markets: France (up 7.3%) and Germany (up 4.3%). Double-digit gains were also seen in Belgium (17.7%), Slovenia (18.2%), Hungary (18.4%), Sweden (30.5%) and Romania (31.1%).

These localised surges in demand for diesel  are likely to worry some manufacturers, as 2020 will see enforcement of the EU’s 95g/km fleet CO2 average.. Falling diesel sales over the last few years have only helped increase these averages, and some fear large fines as their carbon-emission figures spiral out of control.

Charging up

However, demand for alternatively-fuelled cars (AFVs) grew significantly, registering a 66.2% increase across Europe. Electrically-chargeable vehicles (ECV) were among the main drivers of this growth, with a rise of 80.5%; although this equates to just 155,572 units in total. The battery-electric segment (BEV) and plug-in hybrids (PHEV) posted strong gains, up 76.5% and 86.4%, respectively, while hybrid-electric vehicles (HEV) still accounted for the vast majority of AFVs sold in the EU. Indeed, 253,604 units were registered during the fourth quarter, up 69.8% compared to 2018.

Looking at the five major markets, all of them posted strong growth in total AFV registrations from October to December 2019. Germany stood out as demand more than doubled (up 101.9%) during the fourth quarter, driven by sales of both PHEVs (up 221%) and HEVs (up 110.7%), while sales of BEVs increased 33.8%. The best performance in BEV sales of the big five markets occurred in the UK, where registrations grew 202.8% in the quarter, as 12,753 units sold.

Emission alarm

Overall, in 2019, 58.9% of cars registered were powered by petrol, compared to 56.6% in the whole of 2018. Diesel accounted for 30.5% of all sales, a drop of 5.4% compared to the previous year. ECVs made up a 3% share, up 1% on 2018 figures.

While petrol-vehicle sales rise, so does the CO2 output, and while ECV growth is impressive, it still only accounts for a small proportion of total vehicle sales. Unless there is a sudden surge in demand for PHEVs, HEVs and BEVs, many carmakers will likely look to pull certain engine options or models from showrooms to ensure that any fines they do encounter are as small as possible.